Local musician, Damien Johnson, opens up about life, music, and mental health. By Rachel Vickary
Ahead of the For the Boys Fest event in November, which shines a spotlight on men’s mental health, Ipswich Local magazine had the chance to sit down with Ipswich-based singer/songwriter, Damien Johnson, who will headline at the event.nDamien’s music is known for challenging mainstream conventions with its post-punk ethos and calls for social activism. Combining elements of electro rock with pop, Damien’s first full-length album, Girl, (released earlier this year), was met with critical acclaim, and widely praised in music media.
nHis music has received both national and international airplay, and has been featured in numerous publications around the world, while his music video for the song, ‘Your Woman’, has received an overwhelming thumbs up from fans for its support of transgender people.nNever one to shy away from raising awareness of the issues, Damien is refreshingly honest about his own battle with his mental health. He says that music, for him, is a kind of therapy, that allows him to explore his emotions and feelings, and put into words the things that are normally hard to express.nHe also works in aged care, which he loves, giving him an opportunity to work with older Australians.n“For me, that’s essential to balancing my mental health and having a sense of doing something that brings meaning,” Damien said.n“I do home support assessing, so I go into the homes of older Australians to find out what it is that they need to help them to be as independent as possible.n“It’s a dream job. I literally just have lots of cups of tea with great people and get to hear their stories, which are really inspiring. It certainly makes me feel far more grounded and far less fearful about getting older, and it makes me really passionate about combatting ageism.n“It’s a little-known fact that the highest demographic for suicide in Australia is men aged over 80, which we don’t really hear about. We hear about youth suicide, because obviously with young people, it’s the leading cause of death, and because they’re young and healthy. But the next highest demographic for suicide is men aged over 80.”nDamien said his own mental health has been a lifelong struggle, “I can remember, even going back to childhood, having really difficult and existential battles within my own head.n“In the last 10 years I’ve gone through lots of therapy and seen counsellors, and around six years ago, I was medically diagnosed with depression.n“I started medication, which has been great, but there was part of me that felt some of the stigma of taking medication, like, ‘am I weak to need medication to deal with this?’, ‘is this going to numb me?’, ‘will this change who I am?’.n“I found that the medication itself was actually really helpful. Before, it was like I had a gaping void inside that was just sucking all the energy around me and twisting my stomach and causing nausea, and I couldn’t function at all. And the medication really helps with that.n“There are still ups and downs and whatever, but I don’t have that crippling void which has been really good.”
nMore recently, Damien was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a diagnosis which he said was actually a bit of a relief, as it put a name to what he was feeling and experiencing, and helped him to understand that he was living with an illness and that it wasn’t his fault.nHe encourages other men to ask for help if they’re struggling with their own mental health issues.n“I think there’s a greater awareness and acceptance that it’s not weak to go out and ask for help.n“That idea of men needing to be strong, and the whole dichotomy of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ – we need to find a way of moving away from that language, because there are times when we are weak, and that’s okay, “I do think that men are having a really tough at the moment, and I understand the reasons for that. We’ve come from a lot of negative history which has obviously been perpetrated by men.n“And while the feminist voices, the Indigenous voices, all the voices, need to be heard, it does make it hard for men, because they’re constantly being told that they are what’s wrong with the world.n“Men, particularly white men, are hearing that message that ‘you’re all toxic and bad’. I think every voice without it can be heard without being at the expense of other voices.”n“It’s really difficult when you’re told that you’re supposed to be the leader and to be strong for everyone else. It doesn’t give a man permission to collapse if they need to.n“Ending that patriarchal mindset isn’t just about empowering women, it’s actually also about freeing men from those toxic expectations.”
nGetting help doesn’t have to be hard. Damien said he highly recommends finding a good counsellor or psychologist to talk to if you’re experiencing any sort of emotional or mental upheaval, or if you’re just struggling to cope, or getting in touch with Beyond Blue, Lifeline, Mensline, or other crisis and mental health organisations to talk to someone overnthe phone.